Category: Couples Therapy

Man sitting on couch holding hands over his face as his partner walks away angrily.

The Five Stages of Ending a Long-Term Relationship

Sometimes relationships just aren’t meant to be. Love has plenty of ups and downs, but increasing negativity can be a sign that a relationship is simply not working out. However, relationship problems can be complicated, and it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether or not it’s time to leave, or if we should stay and keep trying. In some cases, the former option is the best one for ourselves and our partner. Trying to maintain an ultimately toxic relationship can have numerous adverse physical and psychological side effects.

The Dangers of Staying in a Toxic Relationship

Studies have shown that those who stay in such relationships rather than ending them are negatively impacted in their self-esteem, perception of self-worth, and overall ability to seek enjoyment in life. That being said, actually ending a relationship can be a very painful process, which is why many of us try to avoid it. In other cases, however, ending a bad relationship can be a huge relief. There are also instances where, rather than acting manipulatively or abusively, both partners have just gradually drifted apart. In this scenario, neither person may be right or wrong, rather their interests and personalities may have just developed separately from one another, and therefore they are no longer compatible.

Ultimately, while we try to maintain the relationships that are good, or have the potential to be, sometimes relationships that cannot be repaired must come to an end. This doesn’t mean that anyone has failed or that they deserve to be vilified. Instead, it’s better to perceive it as a change in life stages. As one door closes, another opens somewhere else.

The 5 Stages of Ending a Relationship

But how can we know if our relationship is meeting its end? As it turns out, there are a few signs to look out for that can indicate whether or not a relationship has run its course.In fact, psychologists from the University of Tennessee, Vanessa Handsel, Kathrin Ritter, and Todd Moore developed a scale this year to examine the stages that they believed to concur with the end of a relationship. Their main interest was actually to determine how long it normally took for individuals involved in violent relationships to be able to remove themselves from their situation. That being said, their scale is actually applicable to all individuals in unhappy relationships.

These researchers based their scale on a more general theory created by James Prochaska in the 80’s and 90’s. This theory suggests that major changes in life involve a 5 stage process. In essence, any big life change, including the ending of a close relationship, is more than just a simple yes/no or stay/leave dichotomy. The model, then, known as the “State of Change” model, assumes that there are certain steps which precede this change and those that follow it. By understanding these changes, we can better help those who are struggling in this difficult time. This model can also help therapists and counselors better attend to the needs of their patients who are undergoing a major life change and help them through the transition.

When tested in a study, the questionnaire based on this model, called the “Stages of Change in Relationship Status,” or SCORS, was found to be quite effective in determining where participants were in terms of their decision to leave their relationship. However, they also found that even those who believe they are ready to make the necessary change in their relationship may hesitate to do so when the time comes to actually make that change.

Are You Ready to End Your Relationship?

This in mind, the scale itself has been shown to be highly effective at determining what stage an individual is in with regards to whether or not they are ready to initiate a change in their relationship. Below are the five stages that the researchers identified:

1. Precontemplation

At this stage, no change is really being considered. The couple is happy with the relationship as it is, and feel that there is nothing they would like to change. They also do not feel as though there is anything wrong with the relationship or anything they should do differently.

2. Contemplation

Here is when one or both of the partners begin to think about ending the relationship. They recognize that they are unhappy or that the relationship itself is unhealthy. At this point, they believe their relationship to be a problem, and they acknowledge that the relationship is having a harmful impact on them.

3. Preparation

Despite the difficulty they know they will face, the preparation stage is where individuals in a relationship begin to make plans to end that relationship. They may have even started trying to end the relationship or asking for help in doing so. However, they would like to end the relationship soon, even if they aren’t sure how to do so.

4. Action

This is the point of initiation. One of the partners has begun to try to end the relationship. This can mean that they’ve started talking less to their partner during their time together. They also may be thinking of their partner less and less, and instead prefer to spend time with others.

4. Maintenance

This stage means sticking with the relationship’s end. It may mean changing one’s daily routine to avoid contact with their partner, or avoiding places where they know they might run into them. Partners, or former partners, at this stage begin to get rid of any items which remind them of their relationship. They also declare that they will never revisit this relationship again. This is often the most difficult stage to achieve.

Every Relationship Offers a Lesson

Knowledge of these stages and their resulting impact on an individual or individuals within a relationship can help those close to them provide the support they need during these challenging times. This information can also help therapists to develop accurate advice and strategies to help their patients cope with, process, and ultimately understand how they’re feeling as their relationship comes to a close. Perhaps the most important lesson to learn is that despite being in a relationship, both partners are also individuals, with individual needs that need to be addressed and taken care of. If the relationship itself doesn’t recognize and attend to this, then it is not mutually beneficial. In that case, if things are becoming one-sided, or if no one is happy, it may be time to end the relationship. Whatever the case may be, no one has to be alone.

Call our office @ 800-278-9354 or fill out a confidential contact form to learn more about relationship therapy in Boca Raton.
A happy couple sitting by the pool. Woman is kissing man on side of head as man smiles.

Could Your Relationship Benefit from Couples Therapy?

As the holidays draw nearer it can seem as though there are never enough hours in the day to get everything we want done. From decorating to gift shopping and planning get-togethers, we may find ourselves so wrapped up in seemingly endless preparations, that we consequently neglect other important things. Namely, ourselves and our partners. In fact, many relationships tend to suffer during the holiday season. After all, holiday stress impacts those closest to us as much as we are impacted. Because of this, tension within the relationship can be at an all time high, leading to an increased likelihood of arguments and fights. When both partners are stressed, it can be difficult to mediate the conflicts within the relationship from the inside. Sometimes, a having the help of an experienced couples therapist can be exactly what a relationship needs to thrive.

Guiding Relationships Through Difficult Times

As a result, it may be a good idea to enlist the help of a couples therapist to help us through this challenging time of year, as well as through any other contentious periods we may face with our partners. As two separate individuals, we will not always see eye to eye, however, learning to communicate through these differences and disagreements can make the difference between a healthy functioning relationship and an unhealthy one. The role of the couple’s therapist, then, is to help facilitate and guide this communication to insure any problems are being properly addressed in a healthy and constructive manner. Still wondering why couple’s therapy is the best choice for maintaining a good relationship throughout the year?

Four Ways a Couples Therapist Can be Helpful

1. High Success Rate

Part of what makes couple’s therapy such a good choice for couples in need of communication guidance or conflict mediation is that it actually works. In fact, studies have shown that couple’s therapy is successful in around 70% of cases, where the couples report that attending regular sessions has actually helped their relationship. This effectiveness rate is similar to other forms of therapy. However, when looking to attend couple’s therapy, it must be understood that it is a specialty and therefore not something that any individual therapist can practice effectively unless they are properly qualified.

2. Don’t Wait

It can be easy to put ourselves and our relationships last on the list of priorities, particularly at this time of year. However, waiting is often the worst option. The longer we wait to mend our relationships the more likely they are to deteriorate, and rapidly! Even if things seem alright right now, a slight increase in conflict or a subtle yet noticeable rise in tension can be warning signs of what’s to come. As such we must learn to be proactive about taking care of our relationship and bridging any gaps in communication, which couple’s therapy happens to be excellent for.

3. Don’t Treat, Prevent

The best treatment for any problems within a relationship is prevention. As previously mentioned, waiting to address problems that arise does more harm than good. Conflict won’t just go away if we ignore it. While we might feel as though we’re avoiding small arguments in the short-term, we’re actually allowing problems to build up in the background. Inevitably, all of the disagreements and miscommunications we were avoiding will come to a head. To avoid this and to better prepare ourselves to mediate conflict we should enlist the help of a professional. Couple’s therapy is an effective means of improving trust, openness, and mutual commitment.

4. Not Everything Will be Perfect (and That’s Okay!)

There may have been a time when we dreamed of having the perfect fairy tale romance. But real life is far from fairy tales in many ways. There is no such thing as a “perfect” relationship. In fact, striving for perfection can put an unnecessary strain on ourselves and our partners. When we look for a perfect romance, we may become more focused on fulfilling a role of perfect partner than being ourselves and feeling comfortable with our partners in our own skin. Because of this, we should instead focus on being fulfilled and happy. Sometimes, we are likely to disagree on things.

Couples Therapy Can Improve Most Relationships

Couples therapy doesn’t necessarily mean that the relationship is a bad one, so long as those differing beliefs and opinions are discussed openly and respectfully and some sort of decision is made. Either we can make a determination on what path we’d like to follow, or we decide to respect our differences and move on. “To each their own” as the saying goes. Either way, there is nothing wrong with needing or asking for help. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, and asking for help is not an indication that the relationship is doomed or that we’ve failed somehow. Usually, quite the opposite.

Young woman with ban-aids on her arm looking upset as a man's arms reach out for her.

Spot the Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship

Relationships can be a wonderful, mutually fulfilling means of growth and development for both partners. In a good, healthy relationship, we may feel as though our partner brings out the best in us, and we the best in them. We love and support each other, through the best of times and the worst. While every relationship has its ups and downs from time to time, in a healthy relationship we recognize that any disagreements can be mediated through good communication, patience, and understanding. In this way, while we may not always agree on everything, we at the very least maintain our love and respect for our partner, as well as their love and respect for us. However, unhealthy, abusive relationships are far less civil. In fact, one of the biggest indicators of a relationship being abusive is whether or not both partners are on equal ground. While this may be difficult to determine right from the start, ultimately where each individual stands in terms of the relationship’s power dynamics will inevitably manifest. If there is a significant power imbalance between partners, the relationship may very well become abusive.

The Abuser vs. The Abused – Understanding Abusive Partnerships

In abusive relationships, there are typically two roles: the abuser and the victim or abused. The abuser is the individual who tends to exert more power over their partner. When that partner does not comply with his or her expectations or demands, the abuser then lashes out either verbally or physically. On the other hand, the abused usually tries to do whatever they can to conform to their partner’s wishes in order to keep them happy. This can mean compromising their own wants, needs, beliefs, or values in doing so. While in some cases, both partners can share and interchange these imbalanced roles, more often than not they are relatively stagnant. In other words, one partner more often fulfills the role of abuser whereas the other typically remains in the role of abused. The occurrences of these roles between men and women are equally distributed, studies show, and one of the most common forms of abuse in relationships is that which is emotional. Furthermore, abuse can occur in any relationship, not just intimate. In fact, this relationship dynamic can manifest in relationships between parents and children, siblings, friends, and even in professional circles. The resulting effect is a severe blow to the abused individual’s self esteem. After all, when we’re told something over and over, regardless if it is good or bad, over a long period of time, we might be inclined to believe it’s true.

Four Signs You Are in an Abusive Relationship

But how can we know if the relationship we’re in is emotionally abusive? There are a few key signs to look out for:

1. Finding Fault

In an abusive relationship, the communication is almost always demeaning or humiliating. In other words, the abusive partner enjoys making their partner feel ashamed for something. This can occur through constant correcting or attempts at finding faults within their partner. In this way, the determination to point out mistakes is actually a way for the abuser to put their partner down constantly, usually in front of others.

2. “Overly-Sensitive”

Perhaps we’ve heard our partner or someone else’s complain that their partner is being overly sensitive. In some cases this can be indicative of an abusive dynamic. This is because abusive partners use teasing and sarcasm as a means of making their partner seem unintelligent or foolish. They then might say that they were “only joking” and that the person they were belittling through humor should learn to stop being so sensitive or “get a sense of humor.”

3. No Boundaries

A classic sign of an abusive dynamic is a fundamental lack of boundaries or privacy. Because abusive partners like to be in control, they may feel the need to be involved in every aspect of their partner’s lives, even if it makes that partner clearly uncomfortable. In addition, abusers also make their partners feel unsafe in truly expressing themselves by belittling, demeaning, or insulting their thoughts, feelings, and opinions. This effectively silences their partner and makes them unwilling to share their disagreement, even when they feel unsafe.

4. Control

As mentioned previously abusers like to be in control, however this extends far beyond just manipulating conversation. Abusive partners also feel the need to control every aspect of their partner’s lives including their financial well-being. Furthermore, they will often use physical tactics to enforce their control over their partner, including physical harm or intimidation, or withholding something like sex, money, transportation, etc. These forms of harassment ultimately result in the abused being unable to readily act or make decisions for themselves. After all, doing so may lead to some form of “punishment.”

The Dangers of Normality in an Abusive Relationship

Unfortunately, a common abuse tactic is normalizing abusive behavior. Abusers frequently attempt to normalize their conduct so that their partners feel confusion and self-doubt when thinking about whether or not they should confront them. This contributes to the well-known difficulty many partners have when considering whether or not they should leave their relationship. After all, do they deserve to be unhappy? Upset? Afraid? Their abuser may make them question these responses as well as their own sanity. In such situations, a therapist or licensed professional can be of tremendous help. In therapy, abused persons can receive the guidance and support they need in order to find safety.

Contact our Boca Raton office @ 800-378-9354 to schedule an appointment with a local therapist who will help you cope with the causes and effects of an abusive relationship.
Man in dress shirt ripping a sign in half that reads "trust"

Easing the Fear of Commitment in Relationships

Commitment is perhaps one of the most emotionally provocative words in our vocabulary. It can bring up notions of relationships or responsibilities, or even important obligations. Some of us seek commitment as it can bring feelings of grounding and stability. After all, to be committed to something is to dedicate oneself to a person or cause. This can mean relying on that person or cause as something constant. For others, this can be unsettling or even nerve-wracking. The thought of commitment can bring about feelings of anxiety or fear of being “trapped.” It’s all a matter of perception, however certain perceptions can negatively impact our mental and emotional health.

Commitment is Necessary for a Healthy Life

Commitment is a necessary aspect of life. Many tasks will require our commitment in order to follow through. For instance, a job requires commitment, in that we must commit to working a certain amount of time, on certain days, and accomplish certain tasks. Seeking an education also requires commitment, as we must commit to attending classes and completing homework. That being said, the most recognizable form of commitment is in our personal relationships. For many individuals, when the word commitment is mentioned it brings up images of marriage or similar demonstrations of monogamy. Marriage is traditionally meant to be a formal confirmation of trustworthiness and reliability between partners. Individuals choose to marry because they not only love each other, but feel as though they can depend on each other.

It’s important to remember, though, that commitment does not mean having total control over whether or not a relationship survives. This may be a misconception which contributes to many people’s fear of commitment in the first place. We are responsible for creating our own stable and healthy partnerships. When we learn how to nurture a loving connection between ourselves and our partners, we can discover that there is no longer a need to fear committing ourselves to that person.

Breaking Fear of Commitment

Dr. John Amodeo has been a licensed marriage and family therapist for 35 years. According to Dr. Amodeo, “relationships thrive based upon the depth of intimacy that two people create together. A climate for intimacy is nourished as we find the courage to contact and reveal what is happening in our inner worlds.” In other words, relationships thrive on intimacy, not just physical, but emotional and mental. When we open ourselves up completely to our partners, we are nourishing the soil which allows our relationship to grow and flourish. However, we must also remember to give each other the space we need to feel and express these emotions. Through this space we can feel more free to express our innermost thoughts and feelings to our partners.

Dr. Amodeo explains that: “trusting that it’s okay to experience and reveal our inner world bestows a tremendous sense of freedom. Partnerships are sustained as we cultivate a climate of feeling free to be ourselves with each other.” In this way, commitment can be freeing rather than a means of entrapment. By committing ourselves to being true to each other, and expressing what we truly feel, we are freeing our innermost emotions. Being in a committed relationship, then, rather than being a trap is actually a means of emotional freedom. We can feel free to express ourselves without feeling ashamed or judged. To nurture connection, Dr. Amodeo states, we must reveal “our genuine feelings rather than acting them out by blaming, shaming, or attacking.”

Intimacy can be Nurtured and Developed

A form of therapy that can help with commitment in relationships is Emotionally Focused Therapy. This technique was primarily developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, a clinical psychologist, speaker, professor, and author who specializes in the field of couples therapy. In Emotionally Focused Therapy, the primary viewpoint is that we, as human beings, are wired for connection. As such, intimacy is something that can be nurtured once we develop mindfulness towards our authentic feelings. We must then take what Dr. Amodeo calls “intelligent risks” to be able to share these wants and feelings with each other. Authenticity, then, is the key to successful partnership, as well as the key to commitment being an opportunity for freedom rather than entrapment. After all, commitment is more than just a verbal promise – it is a means of authenticity – our promise to ourselves and our partners that we will be true to how we feel and express those feelings openly and honestly.

In this way, a marriage ceremony, while meaningful, does not guarantee commitment. We can’t just go into a relationship with good intentions. We must also commit ourselves to developing the necessary awareness and skills that will help our love flourish and our intimacy thrive.

Call our office if you would like to know more about couple therapy in Boca Raton. 800-378-9354.
Happy middle-aged woman closing her eyes in happiness while her male partner embraces her.

The Common Culprit in Problem Relationships

Love can sometimes be a roller coaster of emotions, both positive and negative. Even with all the ups and downs, some relationships are worth fighting for. Others, not so much. It’s important to be able to tell the difference. When a relationship is toxic, it results in more harm than good. Occasional romantic gestures are nice, but they do not compensate for frequent demonstrations of abuse or negative behavior. Some relationships will have challenges that can be overcome. This is not always easy. In many cases, couples therapy may be needed to help mediate emotional conflict. Others, however, will find that no matter what resources they use to help their relationship, some relationship problems only seem to get worse. When there are problems than solutions, it’s likely that a relationship has met its end. An end is also a new beginning for a new chapter in both individuals’ lives.

Be a Person, Not a Stereotype

One of the biggest challenges most couples face when it comes to their relationships is issues with communication. Fundamentally, most men and women communicate very differently. Based on hormonal difference and also on how they were raised, people communicate in different ways. Stereotypes based on gender roles and expectations can be one of the most detrimental influences on a relationship. When a person expects their partner to fulfill a certain role which fits in with their expectations of masculinity or femininity, they often discount the fluidity of those terms and roles in favor of more rigid, and frankly, impossible to meet, qualifications. Men are taught to be more stoic, emotionless, and reserved. Women are expected to be more emotionally open and receptive to the feelings of others. These stereotypes and expectations can case problems in any relationship.

When we feel as though we must meet a stereotype or expectation, we are denying ourselves our true thoughts and feelings. We become characters, rather than people. If we recognize this and are willing to reevaluate ourselves and our role in our relationships, we can restore some sort of connection. Hiding our vulnerabilities from our partners, particularly for men, can create a significant problem. If not addressed, this can grow until it is too big to be repaired. The real source of the problems within that relationship then become blurred as the partners drift away, as do the real solutions to those problems.

Privacy vs. Intimacy

Privacy and independence are important in relationships. We should never feel as though we are entirely dependent on our partners. This is a sign of an unhealthy relationship. We cannot withhold ourselves completely from our partners either. Good relationships are founded on trust, honesty, and healthy communication. If any of these are lacking, it is usually a sign of trouble. If all three of these things are lacking, then the relationship has likely lost its significance to both partners. Intimacy requires partners to be close. Intimacy is just as emotional as it is physical, if not more so. When we’re not emotionally intimate, we’re not allowing ourselves to be as close to our partners as they may need us to be. This lack of connection can lead to insecurity.

Similar insecurity emerges when we feel as though we’re not “playing our part” correctly. Sometimes, these feelings are internal. Most cases of insecurity relating to roles within a relationship comes from dissatisfaction expressed by one’s partner. Relationship therapists all-too-often hear complaints from couples along the lines of “she never ____” or “he won’t _______ anymore.” When we expect our partners to fulfill a specific gendered role, we are setting them up for failure. Human beings are only capable of being themselves, with all of the unique qualities and behaviors that entails. Not all women are born nurturers, and men do not have to disguise their emotions in order to be considered masculine.

Vulnerability is Key in Healthy Relationships

We are more than a single role or set of expected qualities. Rather than setting and struggling to meet unrealistic expectations,  direct your energy on allowing yourself to be vulnerable. This will lead to more emotional intimacy with your partner. Even something as simple as “checking in” on one’s partner every now and then to make sure that they’re alright can make a big difference. Kind and caring gestures show that we really care. When we no longer care, it is time to move on. Relationships are most certainly hard. If in spite of every challenge and struggle, we do still care, then there is hope. We have to be willing to love our partners as they really are, rather than what we want them to be.

To learn more about Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling in Boca Raton, call our office today @ 800-378-9354.
Picture of a couple in their late 20s laying in bed with backs to each other.

5 Common Complaints Heard in Couples Therapy

It’s often said that love is a roller coaster – and with good reason! Incredible as it is to spend your life with the person you love, relationships often have their ups and downs. Most of the time, the underlying problems which are causing friction are miscommunication and difficulty connecting. These are the two leading causes of the vast majority of arguments and marital complaints.

All relationships, whether new or old, take time, effort, and commitment to make work. Whenever we enter a relationship, we do so with our own knowledge, experiences, and histories. This means that we have already developed our own coping and defense mechanisms for when we feel uncomfortable or upset, and these strategies might collide with those that our partner has developed for similar purposes. This can create a sort of impasse – by closing up in our own shells of self-preservation we can ultimately miss out on receiving the love and understanding we really crave.

Why a Lack of Communication and Connection?

When we shut down, we are essentially shutting our partners out as well. This can heighten negative feelings which can only increase friction within the relationship. Frequently this leads to the development of common and repetitive complaints which arise in relationships.  Robin Zarel is a therapist in New York with 35 years of experience. She practices a mix of educative, supportive, behavioral, cognitive, and psychoanalytic therapeutic approaches. In her experience, Zarel says that she has encountered similar complaints from couples over and over. She explains that of these complaints, “some may be indicative of underlying patterns and difficulties that might require a professional’s assistance.” Couples therapy and counselling can be an excellent option for couples who just can’t seem to come to a sufficient middle-ground on their own. Therapeutic intervention doesn’t equate to failure, as some might believe. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Seeking therapy to mediate problems within the relationships can be an important step in working towards a better and stronger connection with one’s partner.

Because of this, it is important to recognize common complaints which arise in relationships as well as the underlying meanings behind them. Knowing this can help us recognize when we are shutting down and what is really making us uncomfortable. Doing so can help open us up to being more honest in how we communicate as well as being more considerate of our partners in the process.

Below are 5 of the most common complaints that therapists like Zarel have encountered in their line of work and what they really mean:

1. “He/She Never Lets Go.”

Serious or emotional subjects can always feel even more impactful and hurtful when brought up after a particularly long day or when we’re tired, but the importance of these topics often warrants legitimate concern and attention. The real problem isn’t whether or not our partners “let go” of serious issues that they might feel exist within the relationship (or elsewhere), the problem is being able to communicate these issues with the empathy required. Of course, timing is important. Because of this it can be equally as important to discuss with our partners when and where talking about serious subjects is appropriate. Perhaps we can set up a time and place to go over what is bothering our partner in the near future. But we must follow through. Similarly, we must explore the real reason why we are resistant to hearing our partners express what’s bothering them. Most of the time, the real reason for our avoidance isn’t the issue itself but rather how we feel we will respond to it.

2. “I Don’t Want to be the Only One Initiating Sex.”

Intimacy can be an imporant part of many healthy relationships. When one partner always initiates sex or intimate behavior, the relationship can begin to feel one-sided. Sometimes the culprit is just a fundamental difference in sex drive or sexual need. Either way, sex can be one of the most difficult subjects for couples to discuss because it touches upon issues of vulnerability, attractiveness, self-esteem, and control. That being said, honest and open communciation is a key part of successful intimacy. Most importantly, when we talk about our concerns we must express our feelings. Emotion is another significant aspect of sexuality. If we feel that we are the only ones initiating intimacy, we must discuss this openly with our partners and let them know how this makes us feel. Through this we can begin improving not only our sex lives but also our romantic relationship as a whole.

3. “They Aren’t Responding to my Texts!”

We have to remember that while we are in a relationship our partners are ultimately their own person with their own lives and responsibilities. Sometimes this can be easy to forget in today’s world of instant gratification and instant messaging. While communication is a fundamental part of a healthy relationship, technology can compound existing insecurities and obsessiveness. Frequently being concerned over whether or not a partner responds immediately to texts is a sign of anxious behavior. Thus, it is important to examine where this anxiety is actually coming from, because it is likely not the result of the texting itself. We might actually be unconsciously picking at an existing problem within our relationship that we aren’t acknowledging directly, or, a problem with ourselves. Addressing the true cause of this anxiety will help reduce it rather than transferring it onto our partners’ texting ability.

4. “He/She Should Just Know!”

Even in relationships that have gone on for years, we cannot expect that our partners have developed a psychic ability to just “know” what we want and need. These desires must be communicated in order to be fulfilled. We might at times be tempted to think that if our partners truly cared they would simply understand what we want without telling them, but this isn’t really the case. Whether or not they are able to predetermine what we want or need is not a sign of love or concern, it is an unrealistic expectation that puts pressure on our partners to fulfill an impossible ideal. If we have a need that isn’t being addressed, we must ask ourselves whether or not we’ve brought it up in the first place. Then, we must consider when and how we did so, because this can greatly impact our partner’s response, or lack thereof. Otherwise, this dymamic can be unhealthy and ultimately not only detrimental to the relationship but harmful to the individuals therein as well.

5. “I Don’t Want to Bring it Up”/“It Could Break Our Relationship.”

According to Zarel: “The ability to communicate with openness, honesty and sensitivity is the cornerstone of a good relationship. If something important is troubling you and fear prevents discussion, this already is a sign of a problem either individually or in the relationship.” First, we must determine if our concerns are realistic. Then, we must uncover whether or not our fear is really about the issue itself. Or, conversely, is  the problem really about whether or not we will have to make an important decision regarding something that is already having a negative impact on the relationship. Either way, not bringing it up at all will do more harm than good as these problems will fester in the background.

While many of these points might seem like common sense, their regular occurence in relationships acts as a testament to the challenges we face in communicating when the feelings of others are involved. This is why couples therapy can be a helpful tool in mediating these thoughts and feelings to help us express what we need to in a safe, neutral setting. The important thing is that we make sure to address these problems at all, as ignoring them will only cause more friction in the long run, and may eventually lead to the end of the relationship.

Couple sitting up in bed, arguing

How Views on Sex are Changing in Couples Therapy

For many years, the subject of sex has been shrouded in myth and taboo. It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that many medical professionals  also tended to believe more conservative but ultimately unsubstantiated claims about human sexuality and relationships. Modern medicine, however, has made impressive strides within the past decade alone. These days, our understanding of the spectrum of sex, love, and everything in-between has expanded far beyond the perceptions of our ancestors. That being said, we still have a ways to go. Just like society grows and evolves over time, so does therapy and the treatments we provide to individuals seeking help for their personal, and oftentimes  intimate, lives.

Learning About Sex Shouldn’t be Taboo

Dr. David J. Ley is a clinical psychologist who practices in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He’s worked for years treating various issues dealing with sexuality throughout his career. When he began his practice, Dr. Ley focused primarily on perpetrators and victims of sexual abuse. However, in later years he’s expanded his work to include fostering and promoting healthy sexuality, as well as raising awareness of normative sexual behaviors. According to Dr. Ley, the challenge that many modern therapists face in learning about human sexuality is facing educational barriers.

He explains: “A minority of mental health, social work or medical training programs offer graduate-level training in sexuality issues, beyond covering the paraphiliasand sexual disorders included in DSM-5. Some programs address sexual diversity issues, but not all. Few, if any, states require specific training in sexuality issues in order to qualify for licensure. Only a very few states (California and Florida when I last looked) require a license or documented training in order to call oneself a sex therapist.”

Sex Myths that Need to be Eliminated

The fact that the taboo surrounding sex and relationships persists even in academic and legal circles is problematic for those care professionals who find themselves addressing these subjects in their work. Because of this, there are a few remaining yet pervasive myths about sex and relationships that modern therapy is working to at the very least question, if not completely eliminate. In Dr. Ley’s experience, some of these myths are as follows:

1. Kinks are Rare (and also Unhealthy)

The notion of fetishes and paraphilias was introduced sometime during the 1800’s. Since then, many therapists traditionally believed that such behaviors were considered unusual and rare, and worse yet, abnormal. Luckily, the DSM-5, which has become the go-to diagnostic tool for mental health professionals, now establishes a distinction between paraphilic interests and disorders. What this means is that it is now acknowledged that individuals can have “unusual” sexual interests without experiencing distress or dysfunction.

Other countries have taken this a step further. Dr. Ley notes that “In Scandinavia, they abolished the paraphilia diagnoses several years ago, with no regrets or reconsiderations in the time since.” Moreover, he reveals that according to Canadian statistics, nearly half of the population claims to have at least one “unusual” sexual interest. Perhaps they’re not so unusual after all. After all, what exactly is “normal” in terms of sexuality? This question is fairly difficult to answer considering the diversity of sexual interests in existence. The ultimate goal is that the  interest in question is consensual and doesn’t permanently physically harm the individual or individuals engaging in it.

2. Porn Inevitably Leads to Divorce

Porn is perhaps one of the most controversial subjects not only in discussing human sexuality but also in terms of ethics. As always, discretion is key, but while there are many aspects of pornography that frequently inspire debate, some accusations are more founded than others. A popular myth links porn viewing with higher rates of divorce. In fact, there are some who allege that pornography is involved in a whopping 50% of divorces. According to Dr. Ley, the origins of this statement are two-fold. First: “the Family Research Council has asserted that they conducted research, and found that porn was involved in over 50% of divorces. But the Family Research Council is a group founded by James Dobson, which promotes ‘traditional family values’ and lobbies against divorce, pornography, abortion, gay rights, gay adoption and gay marriage.”

It’s worth acknowledging that the findings produced by the FRC were not published in a research journal nor were they subjected to peer review, making their legitimacy highly questionable at best. Dr. Ley explains that the second source of this statistic may be linked with The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. During a 2003 conference, the Academy allegedly surveyed 350 of their attorneys. According to this survey, around half of these lawyers reported that porn played some part on their client’s divorces. However, this information is suspect because, as Dr. Ley explains: “Because the methodology is unclear, we don’t know if they said they’d seen it in half of divorces, or if half of the attorneys had EVER seen it at least once. But again, this survey has never been published, and these data and methods never analyzed.”

Part of the old stigma against pornography with regards to relationships derives from its use by those who are depressed or lonely as a means of mediating the problems in their relationships rather than facing them head on. That being said, although increased porn usage can be a symptom of relationship troubles, it isn’t necessarily a cause. The real cause lies in the structure of the relationship itself.

3. Casual Sex is Unhealthy

Because sex has been long considered taboo, it follows that the practice of casual sex is seen as an unhealthy practice that is to be avoided. There are many, even within the medical community, who think that sex outside of an emotionally-committed relationship is inherently unhealthy because it is less meaningful. In our society, we might find ourselves faced with the now antiquated viewpoint that casual sex is somehow cheap and dirty when compared with the more emotionally-invested bonding sex seen as part of an ideal committed relationship. It doesn’t help, then, that the research on casual sex is difficult to sort through since it’s very nuanced and multifaceted.

According to Dr. Ley, “Some research has shown that many women experience depression after casual sex, and are less likely to have orgasms.” Meanwhile, further research suggests that the individual’s experience during a casual encounter depends entirely on their attitudes towards it which predict how they’ll end up feeling. For example, if someone thinks that casual sex is bad and cheap they might feel guilty after an encounter. Conversely, if someone doesn’t have these reservations prior to their session of casual intimacy they might not have these bad feelings. The subject of casual sex in its entirety is complex and subjective to individual experience, meaning that classifying it as entirely bad or unhealthy is likely an assumption steeped in one’s own bias.

Times are Changing, So are Relationship Dynamics

While there still exists many misconceptions about sex things are definitely changing and evolving for the better. The science of human sexuality has expanded far beyond the theories and beliefs of its predecessors. This is doubly true for therapy. Today’s therapists have made great strides in the treatment of relationships and reparation of personal and intimate lives. Modern therapy, while still continuously learning and adapting, is now a better resource than ever to dispel some of these harmful myths.

True, there are some therapists who might hold fast to their personal beliefs more than others, and this can influence their methods of treating their clients. However, Dr. Ley explains that “licensed clinical practitioners are held by their ethics to practice based on the best, most current clinical information available. They are also prohibited from engaging in stigmatizing treatments, regardless of the therapists’ religious beliefs.” As such, one should not be afraid to talk with their therapist about any aspect of their lives that they feel might be affecting the health of their relationships, their relationship with themselves, or their overall happiness and quality of life.

Would you like to learn more about Couples Therapy at Proliance Center? Contact our office @ 800-378-9354 to schedule an appointment.
A couple sits with a therapy to talk about good relationship skills

How to Tell Good Therapy from Bad Therapy

Many approaches have been taken to therapy over the years. Modern therapy as we know it began with Sigmund Freud who experimented early on with what he believed to be the talking cure. Today’s psychotherapy, however, comes in a number of forms, but the common thread lies in the communication between therapist and patient.

Dr. Noam Shpancer, professor of psychology at Otterbein University in Westerville Ohio, describes the differences in today’s therapeutic methods thusly: “The psychoanalyst will probe your unconscious; the behaviorist will rearrange your reinforcement contingencies; the cognitive therapist will challenge your irrational thoughts; the humanist will provide a safe space within which you may activate your self actualization tendency; the existentialist will encourage your find meaning in the desert of existence; the reality therapist will guide you toward choosing behaviors that facilitate your connection to others; the feminist therapist may show you how your personal problems are manifestations of political patriarchal oppression, and so forth, on and on.” However, it’s worth noting that no single form of treatment negates any other. In other words, there is no “right” or “wrong” form of treatment, objectively speaking; it depends entirely on what works best for the individual patient.

That being said, there is such a distinction as that between good and bad therapy. Just as there are many forms of therapies available there is a chance that some experiences may be successful and others less than successful. Despite this diverse array of options available, many patients will experience the most success if their treatment adheres to the basic principles which pervades all effective therapies. According to Dr. Shpancer, these principles are as follows:

5 Principles of Beneficial Therapy

1. Good Therapy is not Friendship

While it is important to build a foundation of trust between patient and therapist, therapy is not the same as establishing a friendship. The relationship between patient and professional differs from that between friends in a number of ways. Firstly, the relationships between friends can be many and varied, transcending contexts. For example, you may work with friends, see them socially, or even borrow money from them. Conversely, you will not see your therapist outside of the designated setting of your therapy. While the therapist may have a friendly demeanor, they are not friends. If they are friends, then they are not therapists.

Friendships do not normally have goals of any kind, whereas therapy relies on setting goals and meeting them. When we spend time with friends, we can do so because we simply enjoy it, not because we have anything specific that we are trying to accomplish. Therapy, however, has a purpose. It is not an end within itself.

Friendship is forged on equal grounds. Friends typically have equal standing in each encounter. You might consider your friend’s needs just as important as your own. This also goes for interests. In contrast, the relationship between the therapist and their client is one sided. Therapy is about your needs, not the therapist’s. If the therapist uses the patient’s time to discuss their own needs, then it is not good therapy.

2. Good Therapy Affirms One’s Sense of Dignity and Self-Worth

The goal of therapy should ultimately be to affirm the client’s sense of dignity and self-worth. As Dr. Shpancer describes: “Mental health, however, is not a destination, not an end in itself, not a place you arrive at, pearly-gates style, to be ushered into bliss. Rather, mental health is a process you adopt and use in the pursuit of your chosen goals.” Another way to look at this is to think of mental health as driving skill, not the destination to be arrived at. In this perspective, the therapist is the driving instructor.

While therapy can include judgments, it is not about judging the patient. The majority of people who seek therapy have been judged, often harshly, for their thoughts and feelings. Good therapists, however, provide judgment that is constructive, coupled with helpful advice, to help the healing process and offer a corrective experience. After all, patients need more than anything empathy, understanding, attention, acceptance, and encouragement. Good therapy does not patronize,condescend, lie, abuse, or cheat.

3. Good Therapy Encourages Independence and Confidence

Therapy should help the patient improve their resilience, independence, life-confidence, and decision-making. If this is not being accomplished, then good therapy is not taking place. Dr. Shpancer notes that “A good sign of therapy at the brink of failure, or of therapy that’s not legitimate, is when your dependence on the therapist increases over time.” The therapist’s job is not to solve the patient’s problems, it is to equip them with the skills they need to solve their own problems. Otherwise, the therapy isn’t effective.

4. Good Therapy Offers Support and Encourages Action

One of the primary roles of the therapist is to engage the client on multiple levels. This means involving the client’s emotion, cognition, and behavior. Therapists will often focus on understanding their patients empathetically. In doing this, a sort of alliance is established. Through this alliance we can begin to realize the inner workings of our own minds, as well as gain new perspective on our lives. This is how therapy can facilitate learning, providing us with new insights and new ways of thinking about ourselves and our relationships with others. Therapy can also show us new ways of communicating and managing our emotions. Good therapy should also focus on the client’s actions in the world: showing them how to practice new skills, and adopt new habits to improve how they function in the world around them.

5. Good Therapy Lets the Client Do Their Work

A sign that a particular therapy experience might not be working out can be seen if a therapist appears to be taking credit for the client’s work. Therapists are guiding figures, but changes and improvements in their patients are caused the by individual’s own motivation, resources, social support, and determination. Dr. Shpancer also acknowledges that “The client’s experience of the therapy also matters more than the objective measurement of therapy ingredients.” Dr. Shpancer believes that all therapy is fundamentally directed towards the self. He states: “If therapy is to work for the client, the client has to work for the therapy.” Initiation of change is not caused by the therapist, but by the client’s own willingness to change. Good therapy acknowledges this and allows the client to do their own work in addition to providing guidance and encouragement from the therapist.

Knowing the Difference Between Good and Bad Therapy

Knowing the difference between good and bad therapy can mean the difference between having an experience which is effective or ineffective. By recognizing what constitutes good therapy, clients can become more aware of when certain methods of treatment are or aren’t working for them. By acknowledging these feelings and experiences, individuals can make informed decisions and discover what treatments will best help them to become happy, functional, and at peace with their minds and lives.

middle aged couple sitting at table eating a meal with wine

How Therapy Can Help Partners with an Eating Disorder

If you were asked to picture someone with an eating disorder, what would you see? Unfortunately, many of us might conjure an image of a young person, perhaps a teenager, who is female. Perhaps this person has developed an eating disorder in order to conform with social pressures to look a certain way or to meet some unattainable standard of beauty. Perhaps puberty has caused them to struggle with their self-image, resulting in this deprivational and harmful behavior. What many of us may not realize is that eating disorders have no exact age of onset or age limit. While it’s true that the development of eating disorders isn’t uncommon amongst the teenage/adolescent population, it is also true that, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, “Up to 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S.”

Eating Disorders Affect Men Too

Further, it’s wrong to assume that eating disorders only affect women. While women are predominant in the number of reported eating disorder cases, eating disorders also impact approximately 10-15% of men. The accuracy of these number is questionable, mainly due to the fact that the occurrence of eating disorders is underreported in men because men are less likely to admit to and seek treatment for eating disorders. This is largely due to the fact that eating disorders are wrongly perceived as “women’s diseases” and therefore are irrelevant to and/or unlikely to affect men.

The fact of the matter is, many adults, both men and women, struggle with eating disorders, regardless of what stage of life they might be in. A large number of these men and women are also involved romantically and have families, which has caused an investigation into the impact that eating disorders might have on these relationships. Thus far, the majority of this research has been directed towards the impact that eating disorders might have in the parent/child relationship, but surprisingly little attention has been focused on the impact of such disorders on romantic relationships.

Eating Disorders vs. Romantic Relationships

Studies have found that eating disorders can cause the partners of those struggling to feel as though the emotional intimacy of their relationship is diminishing. Such disorders often cause an increased need for privacy or secrecy in order to be practiced. As the individual slips further into these consuming symptoms they might be, consequently, forfeiting the closeness they had with their partner and instead forging and uncomfortable distance.

Another common symptom of eating disorders is, ironically enough, a preoccupation with food. Individuals struggling with an eating disorder might find that they are constantly worried about food, including what, how much, how often, and when they’re eating. Such invasive and recurrent thoughts seldom leave any room for the person to think about anything – or anyone – else. Eating out is a common means of dating or spending quality time with one’s partner. Many people may go out to restaurants or events where food is a main feature, which a person struggling with an eating disorder may decline or go out of their way to avoid in order to avoid being confronted by food. As a result, they are compromising quality time with their partner due to their reluctance to eat or to be seen eating.

Moreover, eating disorders may negatively impact relationships physically as well. In addition to causing weight loss, eating disorders can also cause a loss of menstrual cycle due to calorie deficiency, known as Amenorrhea, and hormone imbalances. Both of these things can contribute to  decreased sex drive, compromising the intimacy of most romantic relationships. This can further distance partners from each other as they struggle to connect both in and outside the bedroom.

How Therapy Can Help

But how can one help? Is there a cure? Unfortunately, no. There is no set cure for eating disorders, but there are ways to help. If you or a loved one is struggling the best methods of responding to eating disorders is to educate oneself, be supportive, and seek help. Therapy, both individual and in groups, can greatly benefit persons with eating disorders. This is because therapy sessions provide patients with a person who understands the complexities of the issues involved in their disorder. In therapy, individuals can talk about their fears and concerns, cope with these feelings, as well as potentially learn new ways to be supportive towards one’s partner. For partners of afflicted individuals who need support themselves, group therapy sessions can be extremely helpful. This is because group sessions can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, as well as offer feelings of support and understanding from others outside of the relationship.

With Therapy Recovery is Possible

In essence, therapy can help restore hope. By educating and offering a means of securely expressing one’s true feelings, therapy can oftentimes be the most successful means of helping oneself or one’s partner overcome their disorders. While there is no one, set cure, recovery is absolutely possible. Furthermore, by journeying to recovery together, couples can begin to feel closer to one another and, through this process of mutual healing, strengthen their relationship.

For more information about setting up an appointment with one of Proliance Center’s Boca Raton therapists, please call us today @ 800-378-9354.
Couple sitting up in bed, arguing

How Couples Therapy Can Improve A Relationship

Love is an amazing, wonderful thing, but just as with anything else, it can have its fair share of ups and downs. Unfortunately, the intensely personal and emotional nature of love makes it so that when we experience those occasional “downs” they seem truly painful. In relationships we learn to develop a system of trust so that we help our partners with the stresses of their daily lives and they help us. However, what happens when this relationship of mutual reliance and communication falters? Every couple argues from time to time, but when mediation becomes difficult, therapy can help.

Why Do Couples Argue?

But why might we feel prone to argue? There’s a scientific explanation between the tension that can sometimes be caused by proximity. According to psychologist and psychotherapist Tamara McClintock Greenberg,  “Our bodies are powerful conduits of emotions. And as we have evolved together, we have learned to be very sensitive to the emotional states of those we are close to.” In other words, tensions may arise once we become more attuned to our partners emotional state. The result? If they’re upset, we’re upset, and that anger and sadness is not only reflected in ourselves but becomes magnified.

In fact, in the early years of marriage, the people we decide to spend the majority of our time with can affect us a great deal in terms of our cortisone levels which impacts how much stress we experience. As Greenberg explains: “In general, too much cortisol is considered unhealthy. In response to stress, corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF), through a complex network, controls the release of cortisol, which then acts on the immune system.” What does this mean? In essence we need to manage our stress to decrease the impact of cortisol levels. This can be difficult when we’re impacted by the stress and discomfort of our loved ones. This is especially problematic when we consider that we tend to “match up” with the stress levels of our partners.

Longevity Influences Proximity

The longer a relationship lasts the more attuned we become to our partners. This connection isn’t just metaphoric, its biological. The longer couples are together to more similar their cortisol responses become. Unfortunately this attunement comes with an obvious downside: “cortisol attunement during conflict discussions among married partners was associated with decreased marital satisfaction, which is disappointing by itself, but also potentially connected to poor health.” This reciprocal stress is known as “co-regulation” which occurs when our stress levels correspond to those of our partners, particularly if they’re elevated.

Clinical psychology graduate Holly B. Laws and her colleagues conducted a study examining how cortisol levels converge in the early years of marriage. Through their research, they found that “spouses’ physiological stress responses, as indexed by cortisol, become increasingly similar as their relationship matures.” That being said, despite their studies, the mechanisms behind this process are still not yet fully understood. However, Laws claims that “It is possible that spouses show this increasing correspondence because of shared experiences they have together, and it is possible that there is a process of mutual influence within the relationship that results in cortisol patterns that are more similar as time goes by.”

In other words, we become more prone to reflecting our partner’s emotional states, including stress, due to the fact that since we are spending our time with them we are sharing the same experiences and thus developing some of the same emotional responses. After all, if we are doing the same things with our partner at the same times for any length of time we will eventually adapt physiologically as well as psychologically to this newly established routine. Think of it this way: if both individuals are eating unhealthy foods they are both likely to experience negative physiological changes as a result, versus if both partners are eating healthily then they are likely to become more fit and more healthy as a result. This same logic can be applied to emotional states and their reciprocation amongst partners. If we are experiencing the same situations we are more likely to, over time, develop similar responses as we adapt and attune ourselves to our partners.

Can We Protect Ourselves? Therapy Can Help

This attunement can have both positive and negative effects but, with regards to the more negative effects, like the increase in stress hormones, is there any way we might be able to protect ourselves? This is where therapy can help. With relationships come proximity, but unfortunately, that proximity can also result in a failure to establish or maintain boundaries. Boundaries are important for any healthy relationship but unfortunately over time some individuals may find that if they don’t firmly reinforce their boundaries they seemingly vanish. This can lead to increased conflict within the relationship.

In Greenberg’s experience, she states that “Many women I see in therapy who report conflicted romantic relationships tend to have trouble setting boundaries with partners.” However, she agrees that this is one way that therapy can be most beneficial. By learning to establish or reestablish boundaries, therapy can show us how to not take our partner’s stress as personally even when we are trying to help them. Internalizing those negative emotions is a common temptation but a dangerous one. Initially, it might seem selfish to separate ourselves from the emotions of others and focus on our owns but this is very important. Therapy can show us how to to separate ourselves from the stress of our loved ones, which can benefit us emotionally and physically, as well as better enable us to support the ones we care about without commiserating.

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